One of the most interesting things a baseball reporter can do is sit in the press box with a group of Major League Baseball scouts. You can't get better baseball knowledge anywhere else.
Usually somewhere between the time when the clubhouse closes after pregame access and the game starts there's a whole swarm of them. They're easily spotted with their metal clipboards and lanyards around their necks bearing the logo of their respective organizations.
Before Wednesday's game against the Mets, I jumped into a conversation some scouts were having. The topic was: If you were Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, how do you go about filling the void left by Stephen Strasburg when he's shut down in early September?
About three scouts from three different organizations were debating. Interestingly, most agreed they would have saved innings throughout the season, skipped a start here or there and even gone to a six-man rotation at some point using either Chien-Ming Wang or John Lannan so Strasburg would still be under 160 innings heading into the playoffs.
I agree. Everyone involved in the discussion wondered why this wasn't more of a consideration with the Nats brass. Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson have said the innings limit will not affect how they pitch Strasburg, and Johnson reiterated Wednesday they are still shutting their ace down no matter what situation the team is in at that point.
Knowing that, the discussion turned to what the Nats should do at the trade deadline. I said stand pat. In the playoffs, the Nats will only need a four-man rotation and, in my opinion, All-Star Gio Gonzalez is tied for the National League lead in wins and is undoubtedly an ace. Jordan Zimmermann has the 12th-lowest ERA in baseball right now. Edwin Jackson's track record last year in the playoffs for the world champion St. Louis Cardinals proves he answers the bell. And Ross Detwiler, who'd be the Nats' fourth starter, has a 3.15 ERA with a strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio of 6.2. How many fifth starters around the league have those types of stats?
Baseball is about winning now, and if I thought the Nats couldn't win in the playoffs with the four pitchers listed above, I'd be all for going after a big-name pitcher. But I think they can win with the personnel they have. Plus, to me, it's not worth giving up top prospects to get a pitcher who Johnson would love to have, but won't really need when Strasburg returns to the rotation in 2013.
Most of the scouts differed with me. They said they'd go get a Matt Garza type (Ryan Dempster will command way too much). I asked what would you want for Garza if you were Cubs GM Theo Epstein. The consensus: The asking price would probably be one big league/Triple-A pitcher like John Lannan and two of the organization's top prospects. So say goodbye to third baseman Anthony Rendon and outfielder Brian Goodwin.
Garza isn't having a stellar year. He's 5-7 with a 4.02 ERA, but he is 28 years old and would be under the Nats' control through 2014.
What would you do? It's OK to side with the scouts. They have a little more experience at this than me, but just remember I will be a GM one day, so you might want to get on the bandwagon early.